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Last Updated: Monday, 11 April, 2005, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Croke Park moment of truth looms
By John Haughey
BBC Sport

Croke Park has a capacity of over 80,000
Certain GAA officials may claim that it's "not a burning issue" but the massive interest in Saturday's Rule 42 vote in Dublin indicates otherwise.

Fittingly, Croke Park itself will be the venue for the vote on whether the magnificent Dublin stadium should be made available to rugby and soccer.

Those GAA voices in favour say it's time for the association to act as good neighbour to the other footballing codes with Lansdowne Road set to be out of bounds for up to three years because of redevelopment work.

If the status quo is maintained by next Saturday's vote, then Irish rugby supporters and Republic of Ireland football fans face the unwelcome scenario of having to head to Britain to watch their heroes play home games.

GAA president Sean Kelly, who is by no means a lone liberal voice within the association's top-table, has made it abundantly clear that he views this as an unpalatable prospect.

Kelly is all too aware that a no vote will represent a public relations disaster for the GAA.

In particular, international rugby weekends in Dublin are reckoned to be worth as much as 14 million Euro to the economy and neither traders nor the Irish government would be amused to see that money heading across the water.

Recent figures have indicated that the continuing Croke Park upgrade is now in a relatively healthy financial position but there's no guarantee that the GAA won't need to go cap in hand to the Irish government at some stage in the future.

Voices against change will talk of presenting an open goal to competing sports

"If the Irish teams play abroad and we then go to the government looking for money, what do you think the reaction will be," points out the GAA president.

Apart from the "national interest" argument, there is also the small matter of the millions of Euro that the GAA could make out of renting Croke Park to the Irish Rugby Football Union and Football Association of Ireland for big games.

With the north Dublin stadium lying vacant for the bulk of the periods when rugby and soccer internationals tend to be played, worries that traditional GAA dates could be affected appear over-stated.

A GAA official very dear to my own heart pointed out over the weekend, how he has to knock on doors on an almost weekly basis trying to sell club raffle tickets to often-disinterested folk.

"We have to do all that and yet some people within the GAA are saying that we should turn down this money that rugby and soccer would be only too pleased to give us."

For many of us, that's leads to a sense of bemusement about the whole Rule 42 debate because if there was a national vote of ordinary GAA members on the issue, I've no doubt that it would sail beyond the 80 per cent approval mark.

However, the real, bureaucratic world of GAA decision-making requires a two-thirds majority at next weekend's Annual Congress which would translate to a magic figure of 224 out of 335 delegates.

The voices against change will talk about presenting an open goal to competing sports in terms of attracting the youth of Ireland.

The pro-change lobby may be a trifle nervous that their horse has hit the front a little too soon

There is also the argument that deleting Rule 42 will represent the thin end of the wedge with rugby and soccer somehow swamping GAA premises throughout the length and breadth of Ireland.

The six counties north of the border are all mandated to vote against change with some Ulster voices baulking at the prospect of the Union Jack ever flying at Croke Park.

It promises to be an emotional debate and while the indications are that the numbers are beginning to stack up for the proponents of change, they won't be able to afford any slippage over the coming days.

The attempt to delete Rule 42 in 2001 saw the vote taking place while several delegates were apparently answering a call of nature.

A few more twists and turns may materialise before Saturday and the pro-change lobby may be a trifle nervous that their horse has hit the front a little too soon.

There is also the very real concern that there could be a slippage in the yes vote on the day with some individual delegates going against the mandated positions of their counties.

The only certainty is that next Saturday will be a momentous occasion in the history of Irish sport.

Rule 42 vote on a knife-edge
15 Apr 05 |  Gaelic Games
Armagh against Rule 42 change
14 Apr 05 |  Gaelic Games
Limerick boost chances of change
13 Apr 05 |  Gaelic Games

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